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Alert Diver is the dive industry’s leading publication. Featuring DAN’s core content of dive safety, research, education and medical information, each issue is a must-read reference, archived and shared by passionate scuba enthusiasts. In addition, Alert Diver showcases fascinating dive destinations and marine environmental topics through images from the world’s greatest underwater photographers and stories from the most experienced and eloquent dive journalists in the business.

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etain their null hypothesis: Trimix decompression is not more efficient than heliox; existing models require revision. It’s not the first time that an NEDU experiment has refuted legacy diving practices or beliefs. BRAIN TRUST MEETS GEEK SQUAD Experimentation is at the heart of the enterprise that is NEDU (pronounced N-E-D-U), which traces its scientific heritage back to the Navy’s first experimental dives, conducted by Chief Gunner George D. Stillson in 1912, to test John Scott Haldane’s decompression theory. Located at the Naval Support Activity Panama City military base in Panama City Beach, Fla., the NEDU’s mission is to develop solutions to support and improve the fleet’s diving and other manned undersea operations through research, development and independent testing and evaluation of equipment and procedures. Think of it as the brain trust meets geek squad of U.S. Navy diving. Since its inception in 1927, NEDU, along with the diving biomedical research and development division of the now defunct Naval Medical Research Institute (which NEDU absorbed in the late 1990s), has been responsible for a disproportionate share of advances in decompression procedures, mixed-gas diving, underwater breathing apparatus (UBA) engineering, saturation (SAT) diving and our knowledge of diving physiology. In terms of quantity and significance, no other institution can claim a more distinguished record of contributions. NEDU’s collected works, which include more than 1,000 technical reports and innumerable scientific papers, most unclassified, embody the intellectual and technology infrastructure used by practically every diving community today. For much of its history NEDU’s research focused on issues facing tethered divers conducting surfacesupplied and SAT diving, which was of critical importance during the Cold War. Over the past decade and a half, however, the growth of special operations has caused the diver-driven command to turn its attention to the problems encountered by free-swimming divers, which represent half of the fleet’s 5,000 divers. “We’re pushing the envelope on gases, depth and gas switches, mostly with closed-circuit rebreathers,” explained Lt. Cmdr. Steve Duba, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) diver, who serves as NEDU’s Executive Officer (XO). “It’s special mission support. One of our priorities is keeping divers warm in free-swimming situations. There’s also a push to go deeper, and we’re looking at developing the tables and gear to support that.” Surface-based dives on the MK-16 are currently limited to 300 feet (open-circuit dives are limited to 190 feet). If you’re wondering what the future holds for U.S. Navy diving and, by extension, diving as a whole, consider this: It’s being invented right now at NEDU. FOR DIVERS BY DIVERS Walking down the long beige cinder-block hallway with brown-flecked linoleum flooring and black-andwhite pictures of famed alumni, passing clean-cut young men in khaki short shorts and blue NEDU T-shirts, it’s easy to imagine you’ve entered a 1950s parochial school rather than dive geek heaven. Diving is, in fact, regarded with near religious fervor here. You could say NEDU was created by divers, for divers. Its 120 employees, including nearly 35 civilians, comprise a unique team of military divers, diving medical officers (DMOs), scientists and engineers. In addition to the leadership drawn from officers in the fleet’s 20-some diving communities — including Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Teams, Fleet Divers and EOD — there are six DMOs, nearly 25 scientists and engineers and 50 First Class Navy divers, who serve as test subjects and maintain the facility and equipment under the supervision of a Navy Master Diver. The depth of knowledge is palpable. “I’ve been in the Navy for 29 years, and this is the best command I’ve served in,” said Project Officer Capt. Edward “Andy” Woods, M.D., a former SEAL Team medical officer. “There are so many exceptional individuals — the best of the best. People come here because they’re passionate about diving; they couldn’t do this anywhere else.” NEDU focuses on improving diving safety and performance. About 30-40 percent of its $10 million annual budget is reimbursable for the work conducted on behalf of its sponsors, which include the Office of Naval Research, Naval Special Warfare Command, and Submarine Escape and Rescue (part of the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory), as well as other branches of service such as the Air Force. Its investigations range from basic and applied biomedical research to addressing the specific operational needs of warfighters. Sometimes that involves Einstein-meets- MacGyver solutions. NEDU also tests and certifies all of the equipment used or being considered for use by the Navy diving community; its unique unmanned test facility is capable of subjecting gear to depths of 730 feet in cold, hot, fresh or salt water. In addition, it conducts all diving accident investigations involving federal 82 | SUMMER 2016

Above: A Navy diver in the NEDU test pool performs an exercise during a physiology study. From left: Navy Diver 1st Class Greg Early hoists a KM-37 helmet after an unmanned freezing-water performance evaluation dive inside the Experimental Diving Facility Bravo Chamber. Gerth (foreground) and Doolette evaluate an experimental decompression schedule. employees, which have numbered close to 100 in the past decade. NEDU’s work relies heavily on the Ocean Simulation Facility (OSF), which is the largest and most sophisticated hyperbaric facility in the world. Built in 1971, the chamber complex consists of a wet chamber and five interconnected dry living/working chambers that can simulate ocean conditions to depths equivalent to 2,250 feet of seawater and altitudes up to 150,000 feet. The complex also accommodates complex man-machine testing. NEDU conducts two to three SAT dives a year in the OSF as part of its mission to maintain the Navy’s SAT diving capability. The dives can last up to 30 days and cost as much as $750,000. Scientists such as Doolette say NEDU’s diving culture enables them to do research that other institutions can’t. “We’re one of the few facilities in the world that can take an experiment all the way to DCS,” Doolette said. “Almost everyone else looks at VGE [venous gas emboli] as an outcome measure.” Although most research organizations find it increasingly unacceptable to bend people, the hard endpoint makes decompression studies more valuable. “Divers here say, ‘Yes, I’ll do it,’ because their buddies are out there at the tip of the spear,” Doolette said. NEDU divers must give their informed consent to participate in a given experiment, each of which is carefully reviewed by a federally mandated institutional review board to ensure it meets ethical standards for human subject research. There is no coercion. The unit’s 50 enlisted divers aren’t the only ones to man up; every diver participates. “I volunteer, and so does the CO [Commanding Officer] and the XO,” said Command Master Chief Louis Deflice, a Master Diver who is third in command and completing his second tour of duty at NEDU. He originally came in ALERTDIVER.COM | 83

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